Not your grandmother’s pumpkin cheesecake

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If you’re looking for a recipe to impress guests this Thanksgiving, I’ve got just the one: Genoise pumpkin cheesecake from Bluestem Brasserie executive pastry chef  and sweets extraordinaire Curtis McDonald.

This is not your grandmother’s pumpkin cheesecake. This pie is layered with a genoise base and apple butter cream and topped with a bruleed Italian meringue creme chiboust. To top it off it’s served with cranberry coulis, pumpkin seed tulle and a side of candied cranberries. It’s the pie that pastry cook’s dreams are made of. It was inspired by McDonald’s training in Japan, where cheesecake is made without a crunchy crust, but rather as more of a soufflé.

But you’ll have to work for it. This three-layer pie takes the restaurant a solid three days to make. It’s probably the fanciest, most involved cheesecake I have ever seen — and subsequently made. But while process is long, the steps are actually pretty simple and straightforward.

Here’s how McDonald does it and how you can do it yourself:

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McDonald starts by making the genoise sponge cake. He makes two cakes at a time, but that’s a bit much for the home cook, so I cut the recipe in half. For this amount, you’ll need 7 eggs at room temp, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons glucose or corn syrup, 1 3/4 cups flour, 6 tablespoons butter, 2 1/2 cups whole milk. Here’s what the three layers should look like when done.

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To make the genoise, start by heating the oven to 350°F. Combine eggs, sugar and glucose in mixing bowl. If you have an electric mixture, fit it with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed by machine or hand until mixture is light in color and texture and the mixture has roughly tripled in volume.

While you are whisking the egg mixture, heat the cream and butter over a medium flame just until the butter melts then set aside. Sift flour, set aside. Reduce the speed on the mixer to low and prepare a buttered springform pan, scraper, off-set spatula, the butter, milk and flour. Chef says that once you have stopped the mixer, you must work quickly.

Remove the bowl from mixer and clean off excess batter from whisk attachment. Add flour in batches, folding in by hand with bowl scraper. Move down through the center of the batter and out towards the sides of the bowl (similar to folding a mousse), making sure movements are quick and precise. Once all the flour has been added and you are 75 percent completely mixed, scrape off hands, scraper and sides of bowl and then add the milk and butter in a circular motion around edges of bowl and finish mixing batter to completion. Pour the batter into a greased springform pan and even out with an off-set spatula. Rap on counter a few times to pop any large bubbles. Then pop the pan directly into a preheated oven. Bake, with out opening oven doors, until color appears on top. Rotate pans if necessary and finish baking until deep amber color is achieved and cake slightly resists when gently pressed on top. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.

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Next it’s time to make the cheesecake. This one’s a little easier. You’ll need 24 ounces cream cheese, 1 1/2 cups extra fine granulated sugar, 4 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon orange zest 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon dried ginger and 16 ounces of pumpkin puree. Allow the cream cheese to come to room temperature for easy blending.

Combine the cream cheese and the sugar on low speed in a mixing bowl until smooth and no lumps remain. Scrape the sides of the bowl well. Add the eggs one at a time, waiting for the previous added amount to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape often in between. Add all the flavorings and the pumpkin puree and mix well.

Pour the cheesecake on top of the genoise cake in the  springform pan. Wrap the pan with several sheets aluminum foil around the outside to ensure the water bath that you will cook the cake in doesn’t seep into pan during baking process. Pour water into a roasting pan to create a Bain Marie. The water should come about 1 inch up the side of the springform pan. Place in a 325°F oven and bake until the center is set and no longer trembles, about 45 minutes. Let cool and then rest in the refrigerator overnight.

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The following day it’s time to make the creme chiboust with Italian meringue. For the creme you’ll need 1 cup whole milk, 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract, 3 teaspoons sugar, divided, 4 egg yolks, 2 teaspoons corn starch. The Italian meringue needs 3/4 of a cup of sugar, 1/3 cup of water, 3 egg whites and 1 sheet gelatin.

Start by combining the milk, vanilla and 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar in a pot. Bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. In a separate bowl, whip the egg yolks with the other 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar. Whisk in the cornstarch. Temper the egg mixture with half of the hot milk. Pour this mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk. Return to a boil, while constantly stirring (making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pot) until mixture thickens.

Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside on counter while making Italian meringue. For the meringue, boil sugar and water until the temperature reaches 245°F. Whip the egg whites to firm peaks (do not over whip) with an electric mixer or by hand, then slowly pour the syrup into the whites with a mixer on low. Gradually increase speed of mixer and continue whisking until sides of bowl are cool. In the meantime, bloom the gelatin in ice water. Once bloomed, add to hot pastry cream and mix until gelatin is dissolved. (If pastry cream is no longer hot, re-warm slightly). Add 1/3 of the meringue to the pastry cream and mix quickly to lighten the mixture. Gently fold in the remaining meringue until evenly mixed.  Slather the creme on top of the cheesecake and allow to cool.

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To finish up, sprinkle the top with brown sugar and brûlée until a caramel crust forms. Bluestem serves with with a simple cranberry coulis, pumpkin seed tulle and a side of candied cranberries.